The Astoria Fire Social Media Recovery Effort

I have a rough draft of a report I’ve been meaning to finish and post here on social media disaster recovery efforts, but I’ve been absorbed in the actual work and the holidays, so finishing it was slow-going.

So when one of my FEMA Region X friends asked (on a personal, not professional level – I had mentioned that my wife’s office had been lost in a previous communication) how it was going with the fire, I started with a simple explanation, and it just kept growing, to the point that it is a much more thorough and concise version of the story, and I think reads better than the “report” that I was trying to do. So here it is:

Thanks, we’re doing fine. Ann has a new space for Clatsop CASA, and they had good insurance coverage as well as generous donations from the community, so getting set up in a new office will be extra work, but not as devastating as for some others in the building. Her computer hard drives were miraculously saved, and she learned an important lesson about frequent backups. We still haven’t been able to get in to the space yet, but it appears that everything will be too damaged by water and/or heat and smoke to be salvageable.

So that has made for an interesting holiday season, but it also provided an opportunity for me to test some new social media and internet recovery tools, such as a blog where people could post needs, offers of assistance, and other recovery related info, and a “Where’d They Go?” Map that shows the temporary or new homes of all of the businesses and services that were in the building so that their customers and clients can find them easily.

One of the major effects of the fire was that 28 businesses, organizations and individuals were displaced and had to find new and temporary homes fast. That wouldn’t be such a big deal in a big city, but in a small town, it’s a major disruption. Tiffany Estes, the president of the Astoria Downtown Association and I worked with the Chamber of Commerce to quickly make use of “available space” inventory data, and Tiffany worked all night on building the Astoria Fire blog and entering the space inventory so that everyone would have access to that information right away. It’s been a great resource.

While she did that, I set up a facebook “Astoria Fire Recovery” page, and also saved all of the critical media links and info to a site so that all important media and messages regarding the fire could be accessed and linked to from the blog. Then I set up the Google map and helped add additional recovery-related info to the blog, and added links so that they all work together.

These are all free tools available to anyone with a computer and internet access, so I’m hopeful that others will find them useful. I’m setting up some empty disaster recovery blog templates with instructions that I plan to post to the ORVOAD website for others to download and use – I’ll also share them with my emergency management friends who’ve been following all of this on twitter.

These are great resources for small-scale disasters where people can handle the recovery themselves if they have the tools, and could be adapted for use in larger scale events as well.

One of my twitter friends, Cheryl Bledsoe of Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency in Vancouver said she’s told her staff to go study the sites we’ve set up as an example of best practices for disaster recovery – so I guess spending the holidays working on this will prove to have been a good time investment, not just for Astoria, but may also prove to be helpful to others as well.

So that’s the letter.

I also realize now that I forgot to mention the tremendous help and encouragement that I received from Kate Starbird. She set up a “Tweak the Tweet” instance for Astoria Fire recovery on short notice early on a Sunday morning (!).

The live map that Kate set up allowed me to demonstrate its usefulness to our fire department and County Emergency Managers office, and this has helped to convince them that these tools could be very useful not only for recovery, but also for response and damage assessment, which is where I think that the Tweak the Tweet technology will prove to be most useful, since it can be deployed rapidly with available phones and volunteers through an existing communications system (Assuming that the cell towers are still working for data, which is often the case.) More on this in another post, because it needs further consideration. But I wanted to be sure and thank Kate and University of Colorado at Boulder for this amazing resource, which is becoming more refined with every disaster that it is used on.

I also need to thank all of my twitter, #SMEM and #crisisdata friends who have offered kind words of encouragement during this effort.

Here are a few links to the Astoria Fire Blog and the related sites described above:

The Astoria Fire Blog

Astoria Fire Recovery Talk on facebook

The Astoria Fire “Where’d They Go? Map

GoogleDoc: Post-Fire Resource Sheet

#AstoriaFire Tweak the Tweet Map

Collected Astoria Fire Media on Storify

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